Zika fear leads to unnecessary abortions.

“Abortion Pill Orders Rise in 7 Latin American Nations on Zika Alert”

According to this headline in the NY Times on Wednesday, there may be a correlation between the Zika epidemic and increased abortion demand.

News sources including the Times, NPR, CNN, NBC, BBC, and countless others are citing Zika and the warnings of birth defects as a likely cause for an increased demand for Mifepristone (or Mifeprex, or RU-486, the “abortion pill”). Abortions are illegal in Latin America, but illegal abortions and the purchase of Mifepristone online continue to rise — even double in some countries, according to Women on Web, a supplier of the pill.

Leaders in Zika affected countries have urged women to delay pregnancies, since the virus is known to cause microcephaly (a non-fatal condition of brain underdevelopment, sometimes coupled with other fatal defects) in developing fetuses. But according to the CDC, we don’t fully understand the connection between the virus and the condition of microcephaly in infants. There’s a lot we don’t know about Zika and pregnancy, actually:

What we do not know

If a pregnant woman is exposed

  • We don’t know how likely she is to get Zika.

If a pregnant woman is infected

  • We don’t know how the virus will affect her or her pregnancy.
  • We don’t know how likely it is that Zika will pass to her fetus.
  • We don’t know if the fetus is infected, if the fetus will develop birth defects.
  • We don’t know when in pregnancy the infection might cause harm to the fetus.
  • We don’t know whether her baby will have birth defects.
  • We don’t know if sexual transmission of Zika virus poses a different risk of birth defects than mosquito-borne transmission.

Only 1 of the 9 pregnant women in the US with Zika reportedly gave birth to a baby with microcephaly (although it’s true microcephaly cases have risen astronomically in Latin America). Contrary to what many believe, a woman infected with Zika has no guarantee that her baby will have birth defects, or that those defects will be severe or life-threatening, and yet abortion pill demands from one source alone (not counting the countless under-the-table abortions) have increased from 30–100% in these countries.

And if a fetus does develop microcephaly and brain defects, even the best ultrasounds cannot detect it until roughly halfway through the pregnancy, way too late for an abortion pill, way too late for what I would consider an ethical abortion.

Women are aborting their babies way before birth defects are confirmed. Women are aborting their babies because they are afraid.

Should women have access to contraceptives? Yes.
Should women have access to legal, safe, ethical abortions? Yes. 
Should women have access to medical advice and accurate information about Zika and possible birth defects? Yes.
Should women be urged to delay pregnancies (aka terminate them, in countries where contraceptives are hard to find and sex is often forced) because of the risk of a non-fatal condition? No.

The Zika epidemic is a public health crisis and a women’s issue. A doubling of the online demand for abortion pills is a symptom of a disease poorly treated, in more ways than one.

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